Diabetes and Stress

Ann Bartlett Health Guide
  • Many people are living with more stress; I see it everyday at my office. Sources of stress can be physical, or mental. My own stress has been something that I have been trying to work with all my life.  When I get stressed out, my body doesn't feel good.  I gain weight, feel lethargic and have a hard time staying focused on tasks that need to get done. 


    Also, stress is unkind to diabetes. When the body stresses out a flood of hormones are released to cause something called the "fight or flight response" (adrenalin). This was a mechanism developed for survival.  The flight or flight response gives us a boost of energy to get out of harms way.  When we feel stress, a large dose of stored sugar and fat are released for the cells to absorb, priming us for quick action. 

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    But for those people living with diabetes, the fight or flight response causes a problem.  Insulin cannot always let the extra sugar into the cells and the sugar builds up in the blood.  To add to that, we often lose site of taking care of ourselves during stressful moments - we may exercise less, eat more inappropriate foods and sleep i not as restfully.  Often, blood sugar checks are less frequent, therefore, corrections are missed and the body never gets what it needs to stay healthy.


    Scientists have researched the effects of stress on type1 and type2, and have found that type1 diabetics tend to have mixed results.  For some type1s, like myself, blood sugars are not significantly raised.  But for type2, they found more consistency with high blood sugar related to stress. Diabetes effects people individually, so look for your pattern.  Become aware of stress triggers and anticipate needing to follow your blood sugars more carefully.


    Some ideas to help manage ourselves during stressful times:


    1)    Try to maintain blood sugar checks and add insulin if needed. Don't get upset with the number; simply treat for the high blood sugar.  Add extra insulin to account for the habits for dealing with stress, like the food and lack of routine that are raising the blood sugar.  My CDE, Judy, always tells me "chase it and treat, don't be discouraged by the number!" Blood sugar checks are your best defense, because they help you determine patterns if there are any.


    2)    Take a walk.  Sometimes stress feels so intense, any form of exercise feels overwhelming.  But just 30 minutes of walking can help reduce stress levels as much as 50%. Walking will release hormones that produce the relaxation response (endorphins).

    3)    Remind yourself what's important.  Realize that eventually the stress will pass and if you can manage while in the moment, you will come out ahead of the game!  So ask yourself what's important and the answer will most likely sound like "you!"


    4)    Be good to yourself.  Taking care of yourself during times of stress is vital! Treat yourself to some stress reduction. So if it's taking an hour to read a great book and being distracted, do it! Try a massage, facial, pedicure or yoga nidra class (sleeping yoga, one of my favorites). Take the time to find an outlet that makes you feel relaxed. 


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    Stress can be a very temporary situation, but sustained stress is physically unhealthy and complicates diabetes management.  Just by taking control of the diabetes management you are lowering your stress level and that's a great place to start!


    Some resources:









Published On: April 17, 2009